Originally created 10/02/00

Braves lose season finale



ATLANTA -- With one out to get, the Atlanta Braves appeared ready to open the National League Division Series at home, even with John Rocker struggling to find the plate.

It took them eight batters to get that out, and the top of the ninth inning grew into a seven-run traveling secretary's nightmare that closed the Braves' regular season with a 10-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

So instead of staying at home for another week, the Braves fly today to St. Louis for the Division Series, which opens Tuesday.

"We had a chance to get it done and we didn't," said Andruw Jones. "Now we got to go on the road and play baseball."

Jones declined comment. Rocker, when asked by a Denver reporter if he would be interviewed, acidly replied, "Do I usually talk to you guys? Well, ask (other reporters), they'll tell you."

So much for momentum and happy thoughts heading into the postseason.

Nursing a 5-3 lead, Rocker got Jeff Cirillo to hit a high-bouncing grounder to Chipper Jones' left, and Jones couldn't handle it, allowing the Rockies' fourth run to score. Then Rocker had Todd Helton 0-2 before grooving a fastball that Helton launched for a three-run homer.

It was Helton's 42nd homer of the year and pushed his RBI total to 147, and it denied Rocker his 25th save.

"The best hitter in the game hit a home run," said Bobby Cox. "Rocker was off the mark, and we kicked a ball. When you do that, you're probably not going to win the ball game."

Rocker (1-2) suffered the loss, allowing six runs, though none of them were earned.

All that negated a solid relief appearance by Kevin Millwood, who for the second time this year went into his opponent's final at-bat as the pitcher of record and waiting for a win, only to see the bullpen melt down.

"It's not a crusher," said Millwood, who struck out four in his first relief appearance in two years, lasting 2 1/3 innings. "Obviously, we'd like to open up at home, but it's not that big a deal."

The game bore a striking resemblance to two other Braves losses -- the Mets' 10-run eighth-inning outburst on June 30 and a 3-2 loss at Cincinnati on Aug. 7 in which Jones committed a two-out ninth-inning error to key an extra-inning loss.

Colorado reliever Julian Tavarez (11-5) picked up the win with a scoreless eighth, and Rockies right fielder Todd Hollandsworth collected four singles.

Reggie Sanders finished the season with a 10-game hitting streak with a double and a single.

The Braves, needing either a win over a Cardinals loss to secure the home-field edge, overcame deficits of 1-0 and 3-2 on two-run homers by Jones and Javy Lopez, who capped a three-run sixth on the first pitch he saw from Colorado starter Kevin Jarvis, breaking a 3-3 tie.

Atlanta starter John Burkett tossed 5 2/3 innings before allowing four hits and two runs in the sixth, leaving after Terry Chumpert's two-out single. Millwood came on and retired Brent Mayne to end the inning. He allowed a walk and two singles, but struck out the side in the eighth and stood to get the win in a role he could fill during the postseason.

"Today was kind of a tune-up," Millwood said. "Just go out there and throw. I felt pretty good."

As for his postseason role, he'll either be the No. 3 starter or work from the pen.

"It really doesn't matter," he said. "I'm there to try to help the team win."

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Tuesday, Oct. 3

Atlanta (Maddux 19-9) at St. Louis (Kile 20-9), 1:07 p.m. (ESPN) or 8:08 p.m. (NBC)

Wednesday, Oct. 4

New York (Hampton 15-10) at San Francisco (Hernandez 17-11), 4:07 p.m. (ESPN)

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Tuesday, Oct. 3

Oakland or Seattle at Chicago

New York at Oakland or Seattle